This first-person article is written by Jason McAllister who is a pastor in Prince George, BC. For more information on CBC’s First Person Stories, please see frequently asked questions.
I knew what the news was before they sat down. The tension in the air was palpable. There was a hint of excitement, but more than anything, they were nervous. Anxious. Frightened by what awaited us. This teenage couple sat in my office, arm in arm, and broke the news: she was pregnant and they wanted my opinion as a pastor. They were incredibly afraid of what their parents would say.
The question that hovered in the air was then posed: “Perhaps we should consider an abortion?
As a pastor, I have had the privilege of sharing some of the greatest joys in people’s lives. Weddings, births, diplomas. I have also had the opportunity to share deeply painful times with many men and women who have gone through various struggles, deaths, miscarriages and unwanted pregnancies. Life is hard. It can be hard. I sympathize with anyone who is faced with a life-changing decision like this.
I know it because I lived it.
Our daughter, Joelle, was born with a rare genetic condition: trisomy 18. She has an extra copy of her 18th chromosome and as a result she was born with several malformations. She has severe mental and physical developmental delay, reduced lung capacity, and needs a machine to help her breathe while she sleeps. She also has digestive issues which mean she can only eat through a tube placed in her small intestine. She is partially deaf in one ear and was born with two holes in her heart.
Despite these challenges, she brings joy into our lives with her dazzling smile. She is clumsy and full of life. She will often smash her motorized chair into things just for fun. Joëlle has a contagious laugh and can be summed up in one word: vibrant.
We were given the choice to abort the pregnancy when it was obvious that something was wrong in the womb. But we kept the faith. Two weeks after her birth, we were told that Joelle’s diagnosis was incompatible with life. I remember a deafening silence in the room and the words were suspended.
Surrounded by doctors, nurses and social workers, my wife began to sob. I was left speechless. We didn’t know what to do next. Would she die that night, the next day, in a week? We weren’t sure and neither was his medical team. The only certainty, it seemed, was that our perfect daughter’s life would be short.
I remember feeling numb during those first days and weeks. Later it would turn to anger, then to grief – that she would have a short life, that she wouldn’t be “normal”, that my hopes for her were dashed.
Most children with trisomy 18 does not live beyond its first year. Joëlle is five years old now.
I would be lying if I didn’t admit that my wife and I have been regularly thinking and discussing the day when we will no longer have to take care of our daughter with special needs. If I’m being extremely honest with myself, there are days when it seems too difficult. Too embarrassing to deal with her. It can be exhausting. A burden.
There are times when we both yearn for a day when we will be free from this responsibility; one day she will die and we will breathe a sigh of relief that we don’t have to fight for her right to exist. We will also cry. Immensely.
These mixed emotions of wanting relief from his eventual passing come with a great deal of guilt. Despite this, we wouldn’t trade our daughter for anything in the world and we are certainly confident in the decision we made many years ago not to abort her.
I firmly believe that human life is not an inconvenience that we can simply remove. Suffering is certainly not something anyone would choose, but the reality is that it is a part of life that cannot be avoided. Abortion has never been a consideration for my wife and I – our faith guides us here. Rather than try to chase the ever elusive joy avoiding any inconvenience or suffering, my wife and I had to find the strength to live in the midst of these things. Sometimes our hurts and grief need to be felt, experienced and dealt with to heal. This includes grieving a life that is now forever turned upside down by a pregnancy that is not what we had planned.
I feel that weight when it comes to my own daughter and often wish she didn’t need 24/7 care. She’s definitely not viable on her own, but should she have had an abortion because she needs someone to care for her every hour of every day of her life? It will certainly never contribute to society and will only cost taxpayers more as it ages. And so I ask, is being human enough to have natural rights?
My daughter gives our family purpose and forces us to live selflessly. Is that enough for her to be deemed worthy of living?
Or perhaps we should have spared ourselves and others the inconvenience of his life.
Many others, like us, who find out in utero that their child has a genetic condition have the option of aborting and “starting over” – to make it right, so to speak. However, I believe that human life should not be disposable because it is inconvenient, difficult, or engineered into horrible circumstances like rape.
The value of a person should not be tied to how they were designed.
My beautiful daughter proves that her life has meaning every day she breathes. She is blossoming better than anyone could have dreamed. For us, for so many others, abortion is not an option. Life is.
As for this young couple, I encouraged them to find the audacity to speak with their parents because the decision to continue – or to abort – was not a decision to be taken lightly. They decided to keep the pregnancy and had a healthy boy. Even today, when I see pictures of him on social media, happy and full of life, it gives me joy — just like my Joelle.
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